Thai Soup

The inspiration for this dish comes not from a visit to Bangkok or the Thai restaurants which have proliferated in Britain in recent years, but from Ann and Franco Taruschio at the Walnut Tree Inn at Abergavenny. After adopting their Thai daughter, they travelled regularly to Thailand, and Ann particularly has learned many of their cooking skills.

There are quite a few unusual ingredients in this soup, some of which need careful handling. Coconut milk is normally only available tinned or dried in packets. We use the foil packets of white powder which come with instructions for reconstitution as thin, medium or thick. For this dish, you want the thin variety.

Lemongrass is a fibrous bulb about the size of a spring onion. The flavour becomes less pronounced from the base up the stalk. Its flavour is completely distinctive – break open the base, take a good sniff, and you could be addicted to its fresh, herby aroma.

Galangal is related to ginger and looks rather like it, but tastes different. It was known in England in the Middle Ages, and has a reputation as an aphrodisiac – good luck. Galangal powder is an acceptable substitute.

Nam Pla is produced commercially by several companies. It is a sauce made from anchovies that have been salted and fermented in the open air for several days. It is to Thai cooking what soy sauce is to Chinese, and like soy it is quite salty, so you won’t need any more salt in the soup.

The coriander must be fresh, dried won’t do at all. Lime leaves are very fragrant, but beware the stems which are as thorny as any bramble.

These ingredients are now widely available in Chinatown and other Asian shops. The best time to buy fresh ingredients is Friday morning, when the weekly ingredients arrive by air freight from Bangkok. We get everything from the wonderfully named emporium, Mata Hari Stores, in Earl’s Court.

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Ingredients

  • ½ chicken, boned and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 stalks lemongrass
  • 8 oz (225 g) galangal, or 2 teaspoons Laos or Ka powder
  • 4 oz (100 g) lime leaves
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 small fresh chillies, finely chopped
  • 2 pints (1.2 litres) coconut milk
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 1 tablespoon Nam Pla
  • 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves

Method

  1. Place the chicken and a pint (600 ml) of water in a saucepan.
  2. Cut the lemongrass into ½ in (1 cm) lengths. Trim off as much of the galangal skin as you wish, a little left will do no harm. Bruise both lemongrass and galangal with the flat of a heavy knife to release flavour, and add them to the pot. Wash and add the lime leaves.
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour. The chicken should be cooked but still tender, and the other ingredients should have released their flavours. Remove from the heat.
  4. Add the spring onion and chillies. Remove the chicken, dice the breast meat, and keep it for garnish. Also cut up the leg meat, and keep it for later.
  5. Add the coconut milk and squeeze the limes into the mixture. Limes will give more juice if you press them with your fingers before squeezing.
  6. Bring the soup to the boil again for a few seconds, add the Nam Pla, remove from the heat and strain. (Thin coconut milk will split if you boil it too long.) Add the reserved chicken meat from the legs, and liquidise the mixture.
  7. Add the diced chicken breast meat and the coriander, reheat and serve.
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